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By Tunde Leye
Some nights ago, a friend had just upgraded from a footwagon to join the ranks of teeming car owners in Lagos. But this wasn’t just any car – my friend had chosen to make his first car a sleek SUV. So of course, we hit town to celebrate the new car. As we sat at our favorite spot and ordered our steaming plates of peppersoup, isi ewu and nkwobi, our spirits were high. The teetotalers amongst us ordered soft drink or malt to wash it down, while the overwhelming majority ordered cold bottles of beer to go with the cuisine. Give me Star, on shouted. My drink is Stout, another said, it is the drink of men. Cheapskates, all of you, another friend said, give me Heineken.
As the beer came, one of his friends who had come from Onitsha asked Mama Gee, the owner of the place if she had Hero beer. All of us looked at him incredulously. Which one is Hero beer again, we asked? He also looked at us as if we didn’t know what’s up – you mean you guys don’t have Hero, Oompah of the people in Lagos?
That got me thinking and I launched a little research of my own. Which beer did people drink in different places in Nigeria. The findings were interesting. In places not more than one hour from Lagos, Kronenburg, 3 3 and other beer reigned supreme. In the east, it was Hero beer. In places in the north, it was Tusk. Of course they still had the Stars and Harp of this world, but they mostly defaulted to their own beers when in their element.
This little exercise was instructive for me. Many of us sit in Lagos and assume we can speak for the rest of the country because our voices are the loudest. But our first job is to seek to understand and know the rest of the country, diversity training for us to see and understand the differences, histories, desires, fears, aspirations and motivations of the different people in this country before we arrogate the right to speak for them. Many of us in Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt are passionate about Nigeria and have done valiantly in our defense of the commonwealth. But we must do better than we have done in the past. We mustn’t operate from the place of ignorance where even though Ten Thousand Naira is not much to us, we cannot understand why the guy in Nnewi who earns Two Thousand Five Hundred Naira monthly would sell his votes for that Ten Thousand Naira.
There is also a second thought that my alcohol research threw up. Within the same locale, alcohol means different things to different people. To some, it means paraga or burukutu or ogidiga or ota piapia or some other local rancid brew that the lowest of the lowly can afford. To others who are slightly better off, it means alomo and its likes. To others yet higher up the ladder, it is beer and cheap wine. But some think of nothing more than fine wines and champagne and expensive drinks when you say alcohol. You see, irrespective of this beer map, the elite champagne class exists across all the areas and the links between them are strong. It recognizes not boundaries and regional ties beyond manipulating them for personal interest. Their interests are what interest them, beyond their region or people. The people must realize this. While we can quarrel amongst ourselves for the type of beer we drink and all that symbolizes, champagne is the same across all places. We must not think their wars are our wars, we must be wise. While we do not necessarily need to give up the beer we love, we must guard against this champagne class manipulating these differences to cause us to fight for their interests and their champagne money. Hero, Star, Guinness, Harp, Heineken, all na beer. There is more that binds us, more that is the same than our differences if we make the effort to find out.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.